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Howard County Looks to Expand Global Horizons

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The Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) has hired an international business developer, Maria Angelica Vargas, who will assist businesspeople considering international markets.

Vargas will bring resources to the county that will help existing businesses and attract new business, said Larry Twele, CEO of the HCEDA. “Maria’s expertise provides us a competitive advantage when we are working with local companies looking to expand into new markets, as well as helping to attract international businesses to the county,” he said.

“Howard County is a prime location for businesses looking to do business internationally,” he said. “We are centrally located on the eastern seaboard and our close proximity to international airports and the port of Baltimore makes us an ideal location.”

Business Series

Vargas (who was unavailable for comment for this story) is helping to lead a new series offered by the HCEDA, “Daylighting to International Business,” that is aimed toward businesses that are new to the international arena or are expanding into that market. The discussions in the series are meant to lighten the path to doing business globally.

The first session, held Jan. 13, covered the leveraging of resources to reach the global sector. Businesses heard about local, state and federal government resources, and programs available to Maryland companies, as well as opportunities for export counseling, training, matchmaking services, networking and mentoring.

The second session in the series, “Challenges in Exporting: Is There a Solution?” will be held Feb. 23. Participants will hear about trade finance, risk mitigation and creative uses of loan proceeds under export loan guarantee programs to boost export opportunities. They will also learn about the uses of Small Business Administration’s export loan guarantee programs to finance a company’s entire export business plan, from making overseas trips to financing equipment and real estate.

The state of Maryland is also strengthening its resources for international businesses. The Maryland Department of Commerce (DOC) launched a new international initiative aimed at boosting exporting by Maryland companies. Called “Maryland Partners in International Trade,” the program will bring together key partners from local, state and federal government and academia to raise awareness of existing export promotion programs; facilitate greater access and usage of the state’s ExportMD grant and FlexEx programs; and build new, collaborative, globally-focused programs.

As part of the initiative, the DOC will provide training on existing export promotion programs to county economic development agencies and strategic partners, assist with developing marketing campaigns and host at least one export resource seminar in each county to connect with potential exporters.

Last year, Maryland had record exports, totaling $12.2 billion.

Revenue Opportunities

Roger Kashlak, professor of international business at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business, encouraged business owners to explore new markets and new revenues by considering capabilities, assets and services they can leverage overseas. “If you’re manufacturing here and exporting overseas, well, now you’re manufacturing more,” said Kashlak. “You’re lowering your per-unit costs.”

Currently, the strong U.S. dollar presents challenges to businesses looking to break into the international marketplace, he said. “Our goods are very pricey around the world.”

As far as bringing jobs back to the U.S., he said, sometimes businesses look to locate overseas because it simply makes sense for their bottom line. “Sometimes you have to seek a comparative advantage, which is a location advantage,” he said. “For many industries, that location is not the U.S., especially now.”

For businesses looking to expand internationally, Kashlak urged business owners to do their homework. “You have to research the kinds of markets that make sense,” he said. “You have various consulates and embassies here, and they all have an economic side to them.”

More Resources

The international market can be a great opportunity for business, said Mike Kelleher, COO/CFO of the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). “We work with companies all the time, and we try to make sure they’re ready for exporting — that they understand the different financing and regulations.”

The largest numbers of manufacturing jobs in the state are in the computer and electronic products industry, chemical manufacturing and food processing. For manufacturers, often the MEP wants to make sure a company can serve their customers in the state before they go overseas.

“I don’t think [international trade is] a good fit for everyone,” said Kelleher. “Some products just don’t export very well. But we will work with companies to help them understand if it’s a fit.”